exclusive interview with Maneesh the Twister

interview by dimmSummer
date: 05.03.02
transcribed by laura
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
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ET: All right, this is ethnotechno's interview with Maneesh the Twister from Dhamaal. Is that the only party that you have, or do you have any other parties that you'd like to talk about?

MANEESH: In addition to Dhamaal I do an event called Stir Friday and another party called Dub Mission. They're all in San Francisco.

ET: How long have you been spinning, and were your parties all in California, or did you start out somewhere else?

MANEESH: As far as the club stuff, it's all been in California, but I originally started DJing college radio in Texas. From there I moved on and started doing more club nights and actually started out not doing just electronic music, but doing a party called Spacecake, which was an indie-rock and DJ collaborative event, about five years ago.

ET: What kind of music were you playing at that point?

MANEESH: What we were trying to do with that event was all the music that the indie-rock kids could get into electronic-wise, things like more of the IDM and Autechre and Mouse on Mars and Stereolab and that kind of thing, and get the electronic kids that weren't listening to any rock, more rock like Tortoise, Spiritualized, kind of that indie-pop/rock vein, trying to get the kids from both arenas to see the similarities between both sides of the music and open up people's ears to other sounds that they might not already be into.

ET: When did you start getting into the Asian breakbeat type of music?

MANEESH: Also around the same time. We'd heard ADF and Fun-Da-Mental and early Talvin stuff, Calcutta Cyber Cafe was really nice, kind of ambient but at the same time drum and bass, and also still a lot of the Indian influences in that.

ET: With your party now, you had your three-year anniversary for Dhamaal. How many people do you draw? Is the crowd basically desi or a nice mix of people?

MANEESH: Originally when we started it was a little bit more desi, just because it was a lot of friends and other DJs and other folks that we knew, but now we've got a pretty good spread, I'd say 50/50 Asian/non-Asian kind of a crowd. We've been doing it now for three years and we're getting about 400 people pretty regularly at that event, and the music also, while it's definitely focused on Asian music, we do breakbeat and some reggae influences. It's set up in two rooms so we actually do have a strictly Indian kind of a setup where we do have actual classical musicians play, anywhere from tabla players to sitar, sarod...we even had a bansuri one time. So we have a lounge area where people can go and hang out and chat and that's more on the classical tip, then we do another room which is basically like the floor and we really rock it there with mainly drum and bass and a lot of breakbeat music. We also have live tabla players in that space also, so you get not only just the hard dance music but you still get the instrumentation, the live improv over that. So it's a very interactive kind of a feeling. In addition to the fact that we're trying to move forward and bring new sounds to the event and not a commercial Indian sound, we also wanted to do something innovative from a visual aspect. So what we do is we also have a multimedia crew that comes in and does a lot of live VJing. Not just visual loops that are going to play the whole night, but using a lot of effects processing, filters and making it a full audiovisual experience. So you've got this interactive music thing going on with the live instrumentation and the DJing, so it's not just a typical DJ night, and with the music you've also got a visual element to complement the aural element. So we have the live musicians, the classical live musicians, we have the visual crew and we have the DJs, and so everyone together forms the whole Dhamaal collective.

ET: Is it hard to find a space to do that in? Do you usually just stay in one place for a long time or do you hop around from club to club? If you have 10 people coming in and half of them are doing classical on one side, is it difficult to find a space for that?

MANEESH: The first venue we had, we only had one room. We didn't always have the two separate rooms, but we tended to have the classical stuff at the beginning of the night, and then it moved into a DJ night. Now pretty much we only go for venues where we can do two rooms so that we can properly have the spaces for everybody in the room to be able to chill out and to dance. It is a little bit challenging finding a good venue, but I think the end result is definitely not a typical club night for what we do.

ET: So is it the same crowd moving from one room to another and just co-mingling, or is it one crowd that goes into the classical and they don't like what's going on downstairs?

MANEESH: No, I would say it's definitely a co-mingling kind of a crowd. People tend to hang out, chill out, get a drink, then they go down, dance, get sweaty, and then have to take a break, come up, chill out. So it's kind of a revolving audience. Most of the people who come to our events have an idea of what's going on, so we just provide that forum so you can chill out if you want to, or let loose if you want to also.

ET: You're also heavily involved in a dub reggae type of thing. Do you see more of a crowd coming to that? Do you think one is more popular than the other, more mainstream than the other?

MANEESH: Obviously a lot of the Asian breakbeat and dub reggae are both not super-mainstream sub-genres of music, so I wouldn't say either of them are getting super-popular. While both of them do have a lot of interest, they both tend to get ahead of the audience, more of an underground kind of a vibe in both spaces. The dub reggae scene now, due to drum and bass to some extent, has had a resurgence because of the acknowledgment of dub on other musical forms. Dub reggae music's production techniques, which started in the '60s and '70s, have actually influenced all of electronic music, because the remix as we know it started when 7" records had vocals and they didn't have enough money to do production for new tracks, so what they would do is flip it over, cut out the vocals and do some effects and delays and reverbs and whatnot, and basically make a new track out of the multitrack recording they had from the previous track. It kind of came out to some extent from that, the dub side of reggae. And that whole thing obviously for dance music and for the electronic music remix scene and electronic production techniques owe a lot of their history to dub, so I think with drum and bass coming from the UK as it was, it was a lot of the West Indian and Jamaican influences, kind of like hip-hop was for America, they brought that element to the drum and bass movement in early jungle form, and then that evolved into other types of breakbeat music. In that sense the reggae and dub scene have a lot to do with the drum and bass community, and the drum and bass and jungle scenes, as kind of a precursor to that movement.

ET: Do you see this music, all these underground type of movements, these musics, do you see them ever getting mainstream? And if they do, would you want them to become mainstream? Because usually when something becomes mainstream, it kind of gets eaten up and spit out by the machine and then they're on to the next thing, and whoever's still into that music is deemed lame. What are your feelings on that?

MANEESH: It is kind of a double-edged sword situation. While on the one hand you're doing something and you want people to take notice of that, and at the same time you don't want too many people to take notice of it because then it does tend to get diluted. I think to some extent you get the bandwagon-hoppers, and then the people that were truly into it and truly trying to make something happen sometimes get left behind because they're not willing to make the commercial sacrifices that sometimes are necessary to really make music viable on that kind of commercial level. So while on the one hand you do definitely want your stuff to get heard and you want people to know what you're doing, I think you can still maintain an integrity about it and really push forward what you want to do. Even gaining some commercial success, I think there's definitely an area where you can maintain without really crossing the selling-out line, so to speak.

ET: So what would you consider selling out?

MANEESH: Well, if you're just licensing your music to companies that you don't really believe in their products, or if you're changing the sound or your appearance or saying things that you don't believe in, either by pressure of a label or something like that, I think that's selling out. I think for everybody selling out has a different meaning to them. I think at some point you really get beyond, 'OK, you have to do certain things because it's part of the way that things work,' versus you're really doing things that you hate and you could do without it and still have some success, but maybe not multiplatinum success, but just platinum success. Where do you want to be? It's that kind of level, of how much you're willing to forego, and the tradeoff and opportunity costs and what that will afford or not afford you to do.

ET: Are you trying to say that maybe in order to become superstars that there is some degree of selling out involved?

MANEESH: I think to some extent there's gonna be things that you're not gonna want to do, and you don't have to be a superstar to be successful and still get respect for what you're doing. And even if you are a superstar, you can still do it in a fashion that you don't have to sell out, and that's very tricky but it can be done, definitely.

ET: So what are your goals and aspirations with your club nights and the music that you spin?

MANEESH: The kind of parties that we do, we definitely like to keep it more on a positive vibe and keep people really thinking about the music as opposed to just being at a club to be seen, or the party that's cool to be at. We're really trying to go more for bringing something new, that's why we started doing our parties. Definitely as far as the Asian movement goes, you have to give credit to the UK scene, and in the states to the Mutiny crew in New York, and definitely the Futureproof crew with Karsh and all, who were also pioneering the sound on the American side. Basically we were the only other folks in the United States that are doing anything on an Asian level as far as a party and what we wanted to do was bring that...in fact our original party started out as a benefit event. What we would do is pick a non-profit and we tended to pick South Asian non-profits but since then have not been limited to that. So we actually wanted to bring a new style of music which was not bhangra and which was not Hindi remix but still bring something South Asian to the community and also give back to the community in our form of doing an event and a party. That element still remains even though our events are not strictly benefit events any more. That's the core audience that we built, so we tend to have more of a socially conscious audience just because of the roots of our event.

ET: There's a noticeable difference between the people in Cali and the people on the East Coast. For example, Tabla Beat Science, they heavily tour California just because the vibe works there, for whatever reason. There's a whole new-age Indian born-again desi white guy whose name is Govinda but whose actual name is John, you know? My question is, do you notice a difference in the people that come, and do you notice a difference in the type of music that they want to hear?

MANEESH: Well definitely the East Coast and West Coast have their own flavors, and the East Coast tends to be a little bit more on the aggressive and harder side. So playing a Mutiny party, I'll tend to make my set a little bit more urban-feeling because I think the people will vibe on that kind of factors. Whereas on the West Coast, there is that element of laid-back, kind of a chill attitude, and while there is kind of a new-age element, our stuff is still too underground for that. Tabla Beat Science obviously carries some of that element just because of Zakirji and his influence on Northern California, but beyond that I think there's a lot of commercial elements, Indian music just using ragas and chanting. I'd say more in the trance community there's that element of that new-age vibe, as opposed to the breakbeat and drum and bass community. I think drum and bass and breakbeat music both in the East Coast and West Coast still tend to attract a more urban kind of an audience than a new-age kind of an audience. As far as the Asian elements in both communities, they tend to be more on the socially conscious side, I think they're definitely more of the urban city kids. I think for both coasts this type of music is not going to have as much of a bridge-and-tunnel kind of an audience. Not to exclude any of those people, but I think the people that tend to come are city-dwellers for the most part just because they either are in the know or maybe more aware of the people throwing those events. You definitely have more of an urban kind of element, you have more of a socially conscious kind of element, I think also in general more of an outgoing and adventurous kind of open-minded audience. This music, it took a few people to get into it and understand it, and then more people and more people slowly are growing, but it is an abstract form of music and not necessarily for everyone the most easily digestible kind of music.

ET: How do you feel about definitions? Do you have a definition for yourself, or do you not want to define it at all?

MANEESH: I don't really mind the definitions that much. Not everything has to be defined, but to some extent people want to know what kind of music it is. You have to describe it, so these terms come about, and then people start getting annoyed by the term and you have a backlash on it and whatever. Ultimately I don't have any problem calling it South Asian-influenced music, then whatever genre it can be, whether it's drum and bass, or breakbeat, or dub, or downtempo or whatever, it has those elements in it. It's like people say 'Brazilian music,' and it has a lot of Brazilian percussion, so [there's] Brazilian drum and bass, Brazilian breakbeat or Brazilian house or whatever, so you have those elements. With Asian music, there's so much instrumentation in it, the Asian and South Asian aesthetic, having those [traditional] things involved with modern forms of music or Western forms of music...I know a lot of people don't like the term 'fusion' or whatever, and what those terms imply and everything, but it is what it is and is what we are. It's 2002 and people have been influenced by musical traditions that have been going on for thousands of years and musical traditions that have just started within the last year. So any cross-pollination of all those elements would bring out some new form and whatever you want to label it doesn't really matter ultimately because it's just a new style of music. You can name it whatever but ultimately it's the music that's going to count and the music that's going to keep people interested in whatever it is that they call it. I think that's a marketing element from labels because ultimately whatever this music is, people have to sell it, and the only way they can sell it is if they categorize it to some extent. While that may be unfortunate, the reality of the situation is that the artists that are making this music also want it to be sold, because they want to continue doing this as their living. The way that the business dynamic around the music industry works is that you have to package this for an audience and you have to sell it to them based on a label and a genre form. I think while that's kind of unfortunate, at the same time, it happens with hip-hop or with house or with rock. You're not gonna put Tool in the same place you put Barry Manilow, for example. Underground music is also kind of categorized and labelled, those things are just elements of the business, and the business unfortunately dictates to some extent the music, at least how it's sold. Ultimately everybody wants this music to be sold so that more people are aware of it, and so that the people that are doing this can continue to make it their livelihood.

ET: Do you think if you go to Tower Records or Virgin Megastore or whatever there's going to be an Asian Massive or whatever they want to call it, that there would be a section like that, or do you think that that is commercially viable in the U.S.? If you look at the music, there's always going to be a song on there that's going have some Hindi vocals or even some Indian vocals, some language that the general listener's not going to understand, even someone who's Indian who doesn't understand Hindi, like myself. Do you think that's commercially viable here, or do you think that ultimately the commercial viability is going to be in India?

MANEESH: Definitely I think here there is a viable market. It might be small, but just like in any other type of form, there are people that are aware of it and want more of it. In fact, in San Francisco there are a few independent records stores that do have an Asian Underground section. And while there may only be 25 CDs in that section, that section exists, so people are at least aware that hey, there are some artists making this type of music. As far as on a mass level, if you don't understand everything and whatever, I mean come on, now we have hip-hop songs that are using Hindi vocals and they're Top 40 songs. Obviously the Top 40 public doesn't know what's being said in those vocals but those songs are using snippets of Indian elements and it's viable. And I think in general, music is music and even if you don't know what the lyrics say, voices add an organic element to music, so people can identify with it simply because it's a human element. As far as being commercially viable in India, I would say definitely there's a market and people are itching for it. I just was in India for the last few months and I had the opportunity to play in a few cities and people were loving it. They just don't get to hear it because the nature of the Indian music scene is so film-derivative, so what you get to hear is film songs from movies that are playing at the time. An independent music scene on its own, while it's emerging slowly, is still heavily dominated by the film industry. As far as Asian breakbeat and the less commercial forms of Asian music, people are definitely into it and it's just a lack of awareness to the music. MIDIval PunditZ are definitely bringing a lot of that awareness to the mainstream now, with having a track in 'Monsoon Wedding.' Using this commercial film vehicle to bring an underground music element into it is great, because now several million people in India got exposed to drum and bass for the first time, probably because of the song that's in 'Monsoon Wedding.' At the same time, in Bombay there's an actual drum and bass night now, there's a crew called Bhavishyavani, which is 'Future Sounds.' MIDIval PunditZ have been doing an event called Cyber Mehfil in Delhi. I played in Bangalore, for example, and there is a clubbing community that, if exposed to it, would be into other kinds of music besides house and trance. It's just a matter of getting those sounds out in front of people and a forum to play this kind of music. The labels and the media and the market need to understand that there is a kind of viability to this type of stuff and if we just put it out there, people would be into it. Especially with India, you've got a billion-person market. Even if you had 100,000 people that were into it, it's a huge untapped market which I think is just waiting to be blown up.

ET: Speaking of the market, if it becomes a fad here, like that hip-hop song that Rakim was rapping over, I just heard that on the way over here in my car, if that becomes a fad within the rap community, how many songs can they do that with? Is it just going to happen a few more times and then they'll be like, 'Oh well, we've already done that'? That's something I see that's going to be inevitable. For this music to go back to India, it feels like that's something that should happen.

MANEESH: I don't think it'll just be a fad in India. It's so new and there's so many people that still haven't heard it, and they're still not aware that there's non-Hindi pop and non-bhangra music out there that's Indian but still new. I think there's still tons of people that are eager for that, so I don't think it's going to be a fad in that sense there. But I think the formula for you know, Jiggy D/Hindi sample/r'n'b vocal, yeah, that formula is probably gonna be pretty played out soon. But I think beyond that, criss-crossing elements of Eastern and Western influences is going to continue going on in the future in all respects. I think India is really where this whole market has the potential to take over, because I think the kids that are listening to music there, trance music is huge, so why shouldn't drum and bass and breakbeat and downtempo and two-step garage and dub reggae also, regardless of whether they have Indian or Asian elements or not, be popular? It's just a matter of exposure.

ET: Sounds good. Is there anything else you wanted to touch upon that we didn't get a chance to talk about?

MANEESH: I just think it's great that a lot of people doing this kind of music and regardless of the commercial viability or not, people continue forging forward with whatever they're doing, and opening up people's ears to new sounds, and keep things progressive and keep things forward and still at the same time maintain their own happiness and credibility. And I think it really doesn't matter in the end what the labels are and what people say and this and that, and what people like or don't like, ultimately if people are happy doing what they're doing, we'll continue to have new forms of music and new sounds and more avenues to explore.